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Water Quality Issues

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Aside from keeping water at consistent and regular temperatures, it is also important to understand what is in your turtle's water and what is happening in there. There are beneficial elements as well as harmful chemicals and impurities in the water, some of which you need to prevent, control or eliminate.

Tap water

Cold tap water is usually fine to be used with sliders. Tap water may need to be treated for chlorine (or chloramine), hardness and pH. Testing the quality of the water you plan to use will prepare you for any water conditioners or treatment you may need to use. Tap water usually has a pH of 8.0, which is slightly alkaline. You may want to run the tap water for a minute before use.

Although warm tap water is convenient to use, it unfortunately has to go through a hot water heater. Some pipes may be corroded or have lead soldering - which the hot water will dissolve. Impurities and contaminants, including heavy metals and bacteria, also tend to collect and precipitate in the bottom of heaters. This is the same reason why you should not use warm/hot tap water for drinking or cooking. Avoid using this type of water and use only cold tap water. You obviously should not place your turtle in cold tap water and you should let your submersible water heater warm up the water to the preferred temperature.

Nitrogen cycle (Nitrification cycle) / New Tank Syndrome

The nitrogen cycle is responsible for the biological filtration aspect of your turtle’s water. New turtle setups have insufficient “beneficial bacteria” to compensate for the amount of ammonia that quickly builds up. While RES are fairly tolerant of harsh conditions, fish and more sensitive aquatic turtles may find the situation irritating. During this time, water may appear cloudy and have an unpleasant odor.

Over time and given the correct conditions, beneficial bacteria will colonize inside your tank. Well-oxygenated water and biological media (i.e., inorganic media, such as ceramic rings) encourages this colonization. The cycle begins when waste products and uneaten food decay and decompose into ammonia. Bacteria such as Nitrosomonas feed on the available oxygen and ammonia, oxidizing the ammonia into nitrites. Similarly, bacteria such as Nitrobacter feed on oxygen and nitrites, producing relatively harmless nitrates. Nitrates can be reduced through partial water changes or absorbed by aquatic plants. When cleaning biological media, it is best to rinse that media with existing tank water to preserve those colonies.
Note: Reacting to an abundance of ammonia, beneficial bacteria can overproduce and create a “bacteria bloom”, which may appear as cloudy or smoky water. This should disappear once ammonia levels drop and the bacteria levels drop themselves.
Article: http://www.aquariumdomain.com/guideTheNitrogenCycle.asp
Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_cycle


Ammonia is a colorless compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. It is corrosive, toxic and may have an unpleasant odor. Waste and proteins in discarded food are key contributors to the presence of ammonia in tank water and toxicity can build within your tank if these levels go unchecked. Your local aquarium supply store will have the materials that test for and remove ammonia. Biological filtration media helps reduce ammonia, and regular water changes (partial or complete) would be beneficial. Separate feeding containers and reduced protein diets help reduce ammonia levels.

Chlorine and chloramine

Chlorine is a common chemical element used in water purification. It destroys bacteria, including beneficial bacteria in canister filters, and can irritate the respiratory system and membranes. Chlorine can evaporate over time or be treated and removed by a water conditioner. Many municipal water systems use some sort water treatment in tap water. Allowing water to sit for 24 hours will allow for chlorine to evaporate.

Chloramine (monochloramine) is a popular alternative water purifier. It is a stable substance created under alkaline conditions by the chemical reaction of ammonia chlorine bleach. Chloramine has similar properties to Chlorine but will not evaporate or dissipate and cannot be removed by boiling water. However, most water conditioners can neutralize it, but be sure to check the packaging directions.

Nitrites and nitrates

Aerobic (nitrifying) bacteria are beneficial due to their ability to prevent bacterial growth. They are purposely colonized on ceramic rings in the media basket of a canister filter and are helpful in removing ammonia. Ammonia is broken down to nitrites, which are also harmful. Other bacteria present break nitrites down to the safer nitrates. Nitrates should develop naturally once bacterial colonization is established. For this reason, you should rinse your tank's bio media with your current tank water when cleaning. You should regularly check the water you plan to use for unusually high levels of nitrites and nitrates.

Oxygenated water

Well-aerated water essentially contains dissolved oxygen. This oxygenated water is a critical component in biological filtration and is vital to beneficial bacteria. Filters or secondary devices like air stones or bubble wands may agitate the water surface of your tank. Those devices can also be used to provide distractions for your turtles. On a side note, well-oxygenated water is critical to hibernating RES since they do not surface for air but absorb it underwater. The lack of oxygenated water will lead to increased ammonia levels, an increase in certain types of algae, and possibly to the presence of harmful bacteria.


pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Through a scale of 0 - 14, pH = 7 is neutral; a pH below 7 is increasingly acidic and above 7 is increasingly alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7. Slightly acidic water is desirable as it can prevent certain outbreaks of bacteria and fungus where as greater alkalinity may encourage outbreaks. Check your local aquarium supply store for materials that can test your water quality and adjust your pH levels. pH levels between 6-8 is normally considered safe for RES.

Some simple methods of lowering pH are adding peat (which will also reduce water hardness), bogwood to your tank or partially adding water that has been softened, distilled or been through reverse-osmosis (RO). Water pH can be raised by adding limestone (which will also increase the hardness), by aerating the water or by the use of a buffering agent.

Hard water and water softening

Hard water contains more metals and minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, than ordinary water. More dissolved calcium and magnesium means a higher degree of general hardness. They both have positively charged ions and water softening is a process that removes these ions. A straightforward means to dilute hard water is to add distilled or RO water. Adding peat moss or a water-softening pillow to an extra compartment in your filter can also help reduce hardness. An ion exchanger that is used for water softening replaces calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions. Excessive amounts of sodium are neither healthy nor necessary and should be carefully used.

Testing and treatment (Water conditioners)

Fundamentally, water should be tested for ammonia, hardness, nitrites and nitrates, and pH levels and treated for chlorine and chloramine. Various test kits are available and there are treatment options to create specific water conditions. While regular water changes will help reduce harmful ammonia and nitrite levels, it is recommended that you be aware of what is in the water you choose to use for your turtle.

Medicated blocks (usually in the shape of a white turtle), either described as a calcium supplement, sulfur medication or water conditioner should not be used. They are not proven to provide any benefit and in some cases have negative results. Other treatments aimed at reducing ammonia, algae or removing waste should be avoided, as regular water changes are much safer and healthier.

Article: http://www.chelonia.org/Articles/waterchemistry.htm

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This page updated: 2011/01/28 Copyright © 2005-2011 Red Ear Slider. All rights reserved.